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Gainesville ranks 13th in nation for identity theft
Shredding documents prevents identity thieves from finding out information from the trash. - photo by Tom Reed | The Times


Hall County Sheriff’s Office
Identity theft: 124
Transaction card
fraud: 128
Deposit account fraud: 20

2012 year to date
Identity theft: 46
Transaction card fraud: 36
Deposit account fraud: 4

Gainesville Police

March 1, 2011 to March 1, 2012
Identity theft: 80
Financial transaction card fraud/ deposit account fraud: 130

Since a thief stole John's identity and filed a fake tax return earlier this year, he said he's scared to death of the future.

The crime could cost his children the education they've worked toward.

His son, who wants to be a doctor, will graduate from high school with honors this year. He already is studying under a physician through an after-school mentorship program.

His good grades earned him a scholarship, and the family scraped enough money together to make a deposit on his dorm room.

But to be eligible for the low-income scholarship, John, who requested that his real name not be used, has to prove how much he makes. The false tax return skewed that information, which makes his son ineligible until the investigation is complete.

"If he doesn't go to college, I don't know what to do. I don't know what I can do," he said. "If I had the money I could take out and pay for him to go, I would. Hell, I'd give my own life if I could for him to go to college - if I could sell it."

John is working with the Hall County Sheriff's Office to resolve the theft, but that could take months.
The Federal Trade Commission estimates that 9 million Americans have their identities stolen every year.

The FTC ranks Georgia second in identity theft complaint rates. It ranks Gainesville 13th in the country for identity theft complaints and 22nd in fraud and related complaints. That's based on the number of identity theft complaints per 100,000 residents for each metropolitan area.

"There is seldom a day that our deputies do not take reports for some type of identity theft or fraud related complaint," Sgt. Stephen Wilbanks said.

The term "identity theft" covers crimes including credit card theft, fake driver's licenses and stolen Social Security numbers.

Wilbanks said the use of stolen credit cards or numbers is probably the most prevalent crime reported.

In 2011, deputies took reports for 124 cases of identity theft, 128 cases of transaction card fraud - or stolen credit card information - and 20 cases of deposit account fraud, or stolen checks.

So far this year, they've taken 46 reports for identity theft, 36 for transaction card fraud and four for deposit account fraud.

From March 1, 2011, to March 1, 2012, the Gainesville Police Department took 80 reports of identity theft. They investigated another 130 credit card fraud and deposit account fraud crimes.

Cpl. Kevin Holbrook with the Gainesville Police Department said one of the more common ways criminals gather personal information is through the victim themselves.

"Living in the technology age, many criminals are using that technology against the victims," Holbrook said.

Criminals will send emails to the victims requesting personal information or will call the victim directly saying they are with a company and they need to update their computer's information.

"In return, the victim unknowingly sends the information to the individual," Holbrook said.

Prosecuting these crimes, though, can be difficult. If the crimes are committed in different states, multiple jurisdictions will be involved.

"Many times the violator is located states away and the fraudulent transactions are conducted online," Wilbanks said. "So it makes investigations very challenging from a logistical standpoint."

The crime can cost victims their credit standing, job opportunities, loans for education and in some cases they can even be arrested for crimes they didn't commit.

John stands to lose his disability benefits, his insurance and his home. He said his main concern, though, is getting his son to college in the fall.

"He's on the interstate to a good life right now," John said. "If he doesn't get this scholarship, it'll be like running out of gas at a really bad exit."

John said he and law enforcement are doing every thing they can to find who stole his identity.

"If I could find this person that did it, to put it nicely I'd like to make sure he knows how much it bothers me what he did," John said.

Lynn, who asked that her last name not to be used, also knows how the crime can change a life.

She remembers getting a call one day at work a little more than a year ago from her former cellphone company.
The man on the phone called her because she was supposedly trying to buy $1,000 worth of cellphones from a company with which she no longer had service.

The thieves had all of her information, her birthday, Social Security number, account number and credit card numbers. The only personal information the thieves didn't have was her driver's license number and passport.

"When you first find out, it's just such a shock and you never think it's going to be you," Lynn said.

Lynn promptly filed a police report, went to the bank and asked for a print out of all her transactions and closed the account.

Today she keeps her credit frozen, installed a security system at her house, keeps a lock on her mailbox, carries her outgoing mail to the post office, shreds or burns documents rather than throwing them in the trash, closely monitors her credit activity and makes sure any information she shares remains in her possession.

She doesn't like to use her debit or credit card, so she pays cash whenever she can.

"It really just makes you paranoid," Lynn said.

The worst part is not knowing who the thief was or where they found her information or how much they really know about her, she said.

She knows she, like many victims, may never find out.

"It's like a tornado. It hits everybody," Lynn said.


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